Macro Economy

Hospitality 2.0: Now with masks, PPE gear and sanitisers

Sangeetha Chengappa Bengaluru | Updated on June 11, 2020 Published on June 11, 2020

Hotels in Delhi may be used as quarantine facility in case the number of positive cases spike   -  RUPAK DE CHOWDHURI

The five-star hotel experience is seeing many changes in the Covid era, with social distancing, frequent sanitisation, and minimal physical contact being the new norm

Their smiles are hidden beneath their masks. Look intently, and you may just catch it from the crinkling of their eyes. The luxury and hospitality of Indian five-star hotels, so well-known among globe trotters, now comes wrapped up in masks and PPE gear.

Welcome to the “new normal”. On a quiet morning earlier this week, I got to experience it first hand.

The car sent to take me to the city’s plush five-star hotel, ITC Gardenia, known for hosting IPL player auctions and cricketers, arrived promptly at my doorstep. The drill carried out by the chauffeur before I could even get into the car, gave me the first glimpse of what was in store for me at the hotel.

 

Safe travel

After greeting me with a ‘namaste,’ chauffeur Narasimha Murthy spray-sanitised my overnight bag before placing it in the boot. He then proceeded to sanitise my laptop bag, handbag and offered me hand sanitiser before I boarded the car. Apart from the usual water bottles and wipes, the car also had a PPE kit with a mask, hand sanitiser and surface disinfectant spray placed between the seats at the back, but, newspapers were conspicuous by their absence. Interestingly, the chauffeur’s seat was completely enclosed in a transparent plexiglass partition, thanks to stringent safety and hygiene protocols being followed in the Covid era.

Upon arrival at the hotel gates, the security guard came up to my window and thermal scanned my temperature from a safe distance, after which the cab was security checked and thoroughly spray-sanitised from the outside by another employee before entering the central porch. There, I was greeted by masked hotel staff and a masked- and-gloved doorman, and ushered into the lobby while my bags were being security-checked and sanitised once again.

As I approached the reception counter, I noticed feet markings on the floor at distances of six feet leading up to the counter to enable social distancing. The masked-and-gloved receptionists now stand behind WelcomSeparators made of toughened glass with a small open space at the bottom to interact with guests, much like a bank cash counter. On the reception counter were placed PPE kits comprising masks and sanitisers and bold signage of dos and dont’s to protect against Covid-19.

Speedy check-in

Check-in formalities were concluded in under 60 seconds, as pre-registration, along with identity proof and other details, was already completed via email a day in advance. All I had to do was sign twice — on a check-in registration form and a Covid declaration form, after which I placed the pen in a separate box on the counter, to be sanitised before use again. I was informed that all high touchpoints like elevators, knobs, taps, etc are disinfected on an hourly basis by trained personnel.

 

 

No welcome drink was served in the lobby; instead, I was asked what I would like to drink in the privacy of my room. I proceeded to the elevator where a hand-sanitising dispenser was mounted on the wall next to the elevator buttons. On stepping into the elevator, I saw that it now allows only two people, standing diagonally opposite each other, their positions clearly marked out on the elevator floor. A few minutes after I had settled down in the room, a masked-and-gloved bellboy rang the doorbell and left my luggage at the door without entering my room to explain the in-room amenities and fixture controls, which used to be the norm.

In-room minimalism

Unlike the usual hour-long turnaround time to get a room ready for the next guest, rooms will henceforth be allotted after a 24-hour gap between each guest, during which deep cleaning and sanitising protocols will be followed. The room itself had a minimal feel to it, as it was stripped off the usual communication material, including the hotel service directory, restaurant/spa menu cards and promotion placards; the latest magazines and fruit bowls. Even the shower cubicle had just two items — a body/hair shampoo and a hair conditioner tube. Thanks to Covid, the mini-bar was also empty. I was informed that rooms will be serviced based on prior appointment by the staff.

I browsed the menu options on the iPad placed by the bedside and ordered a bowl of clear vegetable soup, a club sandwich and gulab jamun for lunch. This was delivered at my door on a sanitised in-room dining trolley (enabling 1-m distance) with sanitised crockery and cutlery, all packed in a paper cover along with pre-packaged single-use condiments, by the PPE-clad butler. I wheeled the trolley in; it took me a good five minutes to unpack all the crockery and cutlery and remove the soup from the hot box on the lower level of the trolley to serve myself.

 

 

Zero-to-minimal touch services

“We have re-engineered our guest experiences with zero to minimal associate engagement, including giving the guest a tele-orientation once he or she is in the room about our amenities and service offerings. There is a QR code placed on the TV table in the room which when scanned shows information on all the hotel services from service directory, in-room dining menu, concierge services to laundry services etc. There is an iPad in every guest room for room controls, including lighting, air conditioning, TVs, F&B menus for breakfast/lunch/tea/dinner/all-day dining, Grab and Go options, Knock and Drop menu, hotel service information etc,” Amaan R Kidwai, General Manager, ITC Gardenia, told BusinessLine.

Elaborating, he said: “We have remodelled the hotel layout to support safe distancing. For instance, the table count in our restaurants have been reduced to accommodate just 50 per cent of the original capacity; we have placed WelcomSeparators to ensure safe distancing; we serve all pre-sanitised tableware, crockery, cutlery in a paper cover, individual servings for sauces and condiments, hand sanitisers on each table; QR-code enabled digital menus and e-payments. The same safety and hygiene protocols are also being followed by ITC Windsor and WelcomHotel Bengaluru, which also opened on June 8.”

Dinner at the restaurant was far from the normal affair, and played out exactly as described by Kidwai. Following government guidelines, the swimming pool, spa and gym were all shut, with only the salon open to guests. The salon takes guests on appointments, at 30-minute intervals between guests to ensure deep cleaning of each station. Guests are offered fresh masks during treatment.

 

Masked smiles

Instead of the warm and friendly smiles of the hospitality staff that one is used to seeing at every turn, I saw anonymous, masked-and-gloved staff going about their duties. The only way to detect a smile on a masked countenance would be if you spotted the corners of their eyes crinkling.

After a good night’s rest, I woke up at 6 am and very naturally looked for the morning newspapers that are usually hung in a cloth bag on the doorknob outside, but they weren’t there — another change in my hotel stay. “Newspapers, sanitisers, masks, mini-bar items, magazines, bath accessories, fruit bowls are all available on request to any guest. Even the daily cocktail-hour service in the evenings is available in-room for those guests who prefer not to come down to the lounge for cocktails,” said Kidwai.

I ordered muesli, buttermilk pancakes and ginger tea for breakfast, which were delivered to my door. Check-out was facilitated in under 60 seconds, and I was escorted by the in-house ‘safe car’ back home with all the safety and hygiene protocols repeated.

The entire experience left me temporarily disoriented. But when you are confronted with the unknown, the next time you visit a five-star hotel, you’ll know for sure that you are in safe hands.

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Published on June 11, 2020
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